A few decades ago, flatbed trucks were the main mode for transporting materials and products in the United States. However, little by little, as companies have standardized their packing process for efficient storage, there has been a shift in preference to semi-trailer trucks. That’s because trailer trucks have a roof and sides that offer a measure of protection, but more importantly, because it’s more efficient for managing space.
Does that mean that flatbed trucks will eventually disappear?
Not at all. For example, not all materials and products are packed in neat square boxes that can be stacked easily. There are whole industries that produce and transport products with specific needs, consider construction materials for example, and for many of those, flatbed trucks are not just the best option, but the only practical option.
So, what are the advantages of a flatbed truck? Their main advantage is that they don’t have a fixed roof and sides. This is particularly useful for large, irregularly shaped or especially heavy equipment such industrial presses, molding equipment, construction vehicles, etc. Some products are just too heavy to lift by hand trucks and they need to be lifted by crane or fork lift onto the truck. This is possible with a flatbed truck but may not work with a semi-trailer truck.
Another consideration is that some products have large dimensions or unusual sizes. For example, compare the challenges of loading a long, heavy steel beam into a semi-trailer truck, vs. the ease of loading it onto a flatbed truck. Also, there are some items that just need extra space to the sides of a truck, like bridge segments or concrete forms for sewer systems.
In some cases, the transportation of dangerous substances or over-sized loads require special permits to transport. Obtaining these shipping permits is usually the obligation of the client or the manufacturer, but a shipping company with a fleet of flatbed trucks is in a much better position to assist their customers because they have the experience to give advice about such permits. A large company with a national presence will have dealt successfully with nearly every situation and challenge.
Flatbed trucks will not disappear or become expendable because they offer unique solutions that fulfill the logistical needs for certain important market niches. Some examples of the products that these industries produce are construction materials, segmental precast bridges, tanks, jeeps, helicopters and other military units, steel beams, agricultural tractors, cultivators, cotton pickers and other types of agricultural machines, tanks for chemical storage, industrialized machinery, excavators, backhoes, bulldozers, and pretty much any type of heavy machinery that can’t be disassembled.
Flatbed trucks might not be the best option for shipping packages, but they are far from obsolete. Many important industries that create thousands of jobs depend on them for their shipping and logistical needs. As long as people need to eat (cultivating and harvesting industries), places to work in (construction industry), transportation and basic services (infrastructure industry), and an army to protect them (military industry), flatbed truck companies will continue to thrive.